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The Importance Of Cybersecurity For SMMEs In South Africa

You’ve probably asked yourself, “Why are businesses, especially SMEs, constantly on the back foot with cybersecurity?” It could be that small business owners tend to often prioritise day-to-day tasks like sales, customer service, and administrative tasks, thus overlooking one crucial area, which is cybersecurity. Small businesses are specifically vulnerable to cyber attacks due to their limited resources and lack of expertise.

Mordor Intelligence has predicted that the cyber security sector in South Africa is steadily growing with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.97% between 2023 to 2028.

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked the digital transformation journey of businesses, especially in South Africa. Now with that came limited experience and skills in adopting new technologies and security, while trying to adapt to remote working.

This has increased the threat of cyberattacks thus making SMEs vulnerable. Every business, big or small, has become a target with an estimated 43% of cyberattacks. That means 4 in 10 businesses, SMEs operations and revenue pipelines are all at risk. The exuberant advancement in AI, applications and machine learning has opened up a hornet’s nest for hackers, even amateur hackers, to access sensitive and private data and use it for their gain.

One of the several common forms of hacking used by cybercriminals to target businesses is phishing. It remains as the preferred method of deception used by cybercriminals worldwide. It works by sending messages that look like they are from a credible and reputable source to access a business’s data.The Internet of Things (IoT) has become a main tool for these criminals to continue to refine their techniques and technologies.

With the statistics showing that around 38% of malicious attacks are disguised as a Microsoft file or similar, it’s becoming more evident that cybersecurity is an absolute necessity. Gone are the days of the misconception that most hackers will spend hours researching large companies to target and only consider ‘the big fish’, meaning that small businesses will somehow go unnoticed. Hackers have advanced AI tools that scan for vulnerabilities and would rather target several undefended smaller businesses than put all their efforts into one big company that is likely to have higher levels of cybersecurity.

According to Parker Ferrell, here are some of the reasons why why small business owners should care about cybersecurity:
  1. Protecting customer data: Small businesses often collect personal information from their customers, such as names, addresses, and payment information. If this data is stolen in a cyber attack, it can lead to financial loss, legal liability, and damage to the business’s reputation. By implementing cybersecurity measures, small businesses can safeguard their customers’ data and maintain their trust.
  2. Maintaining business continuity: Cyber attacks can cause significant disruptions to a business’s operations, leading to lost revenue, downtime, and increased expenses. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to these disruptions, as they often lack the resources to quickly recover from an attack. By implementing cybersecurity measures, small businesses can reduce the likelihood and impact of cyber attacks, ensuring that they can continue to operate smoothly.
  3. Compliance with regulations: Many industries are subject to regulations that require businesses to protect customer data and implement cybersecurity measures. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in fines, legal action, and damage to the business’s reputation. By prioritising cybersecurity, small businesses can ensure that they are in compliance with these regulations, protecting themselves from legal and financial risks.
  4. Protection from cyber threats: Small businesses are often targeted by cyber criminals due to their perceived vulnerability. Cyber attacks can take many forms, including phishing emails, malware, and ransomware. By implementing cybersecurity measures, small businesses can protect themselves from these threats and minimise their risk of a successful attack.
  5. Competitive advantage: In today’s digital age, customers are increasingly aware of the importance of cybersecurity. By prioritising cybersecurity, small businesses can differentiate themselves from their competitors and gain a competitive advantage. Customers are more likely to trust businesses that prioritise cybersecurity and protect their data.

Simple things such as purchasing the right computer hardware and keeping software updates up-to-date plays an important role and is of utmost importance as they have evolved and become sophisticated which can then help  solve security weaknesses, address known threats, fix computer bugs, and improve user experience.

Besides anti-virus software, there are a few other areas that businesses should look at to ensure that their systems are well protected. Other essential software that businesses should consider are encryption software, firewalls, password managers, login management, anti-spyware software, security and patch monitoring and network security.

One definite critical area is backing up company data. This practice assists to protect a business from attack and ensures a back-up is in place should data be breached or held for ransomware. By putting barriers in place, SMEs can proactively protect their businesses and employees from cybersecurity threats and hacking incidents.

Reacting after an incident has occurred can be not only costly, but also traumatic to staff, negatively affect products and delay business growth.

Cybersecurity is a non-negotiable business investment and is essential for all businesses, big and small. When businesses invest in cybersecurity measures, it can safeguard their operations, brand reputation, earn and maintain their customer’s trust.

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